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"War Of The Worlds" Riots In 1949

Ecuador, Quito

Quito Riots 1949

On February 12, 1949, Leonardo Páez of Radio Quito broadcast a dramatic performance of H.G. Wells' “War of the Worlds.” At 9 p.m. that night, the radio station, the largest one in Quito, broadcast a special performance by the popular singing duo of Gonzalo Benítez and Luis Albert “Potolo” Valencia. They were interrupted in the middle of one of their songs for a special alert notice. The news announced that Martians had landed 20 miles outside of the city and they were nearing Quito in the form of a giant cloud above the city. The “reporter” then collapsed from gas spreading in his area while the “Interior Minister” urged people to stay calm. The “mayor” went as far as announcing, “People of Quito, let us defend our city. Our women and children must go out into the surrounding heights to leave the men free for action and combat.” A priest pleaded for forgiveness behind the sounds of church bells, while a giant monster made of fire was approaching the city from the north. Panic had hit the city. People were fleeing their homes while others were asking for penance at their nearest church.

Radio Quito realized its mistake and announced the whole Martian fiasco to be fake, which obviously angered the panic-stricken population. An angry mob attacked the building of Radio Quito, which also quartered the newspaper El Comercio. The mob set fire to the building and blockaded the entrance. By the end of the night, six people were dead and the building was almost completely destroyed. Afterwards, 21 were arrested, including Leonardo Páez of Radio Quito who was vilified by the media for spreading UFO claims across the city. Páez's charges were eventually dropped and he returned to work as a journalist.

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By Thomas Griffin

I recently graduated from the School of Journalism and Communication at the University of Oregon. I studied in Sevilla, Spain in...

27 Apr 2010

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